Homeless families spike in the suburbs

The Department of Housing and Urban Development says the demand for shelter in rural and suburban areas jumped in 2008. HUD grants $1.2 billion to 400 communities.

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By Catherine Clifford, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Homeless families in suburban and rural areas jumped by 56% in 2008, according to a government report released Thursday.

Plus, the number of homeless individuals in suburban and rural areas spiked by nearly 34%, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's "2008 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress."

The report found that despite these jumps, homelessness nationwide remained relatively stable.

But the spike in suburban and rural communities, areas that have been especially hard hit by the housing meltdown, "begs many questions about how today's housing crisis and job losses are playing out in our shelters and on our streets," said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan in a written statement.

Nationally, the number of families in need of a place to live increased by 9%, the report said.

Meanwhile, nationwide, the number of individuals without shelter dipped 1% in 2008 compared to 2007. On a single night in January 2008, about 664,000 people - counting those in shelter and those unsheltered - didn't have a home. That was 7,500 fewer than the previous year.

Even with homelessness remaining relatively steady nationwide, the report noted that more people were coming to homeless shelters from stable living arrangements, or places they had lived for one year or more.

Between October 1, 2007 and September 30, 2008, about 1.6 million homeless people turned to facilitated housing, after using up hospitality of family or friends.

On Thursday, Donovan awarded $1.2 billion to over 400 communities across the nation to get families that fell into homelessness back into homes quickly - or prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place.

"The Administration's aggressive approach to economic recovery recognizes that during these difficult times, families in certain areas of the country are at extreme risk of falling into homelessness," said Donovan.

The funds are part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. A total of $1.5 billion has been provided for short and medium-term rental assistance - between 3 and 18 months worth - to individuals and families in the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP). In addition, the funds will go toward utility deposits, utility payments, moving cost assistance, and hotel vouchers.

While only $1.2 billion of the allocated $1.5 billion have been awarded, the plans for the remainder of the funds will be released in the next weeks.

"This is money that will not only spare families the hardships of homelessness, but will save taxpayers significant money in the long run," said Donovan in a written statement. "Often times, a little bit of financial assistance can make all the difference between a stable home and being forced to live in a shelter or on the streets."

In order to keep a closer watch on homelessness in the wake of surging foreclosure rates and record-high unemployment, HUD will increase its frequency of homelessness reports. It will release a Quarterly Homeless Pulse Report starting with the first quarter of 2009.

Even as the 2008 homelessness report showed an increase in homelessness in the suburbs, homelessness remained concentrated in urban areas. On a single night in January, 20% of homeless people were located in Los Angeles, New York, and Detroit.  To top of page

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